BBC responds to Corbyn complaint: 'It is a long standing tradition that news outlets seek to break stories' - Press Gazette

BBC responds to Corbyn complaint: 'It is a long standing tradition that news outlets seek to break stories'

A BBC editor has rejected claims from the Labour Party that it "orchestrated" the resignation of minister Stephen Doughty live on Daily Politics in a way that breached impartiality.

The PR chief of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, former Guardian journalist Seumas Milne, wrote to the BBC to complain over its coverage of Doughty's resignation saying it was planned to "promote a particular political narrative" aimed at damaging Corbyn.

Doughty announced his resignation on Daily Politics last Wednesday, 6 January, minutes before Prime Minister's Questions.

Output editor of the programme Andrew Alexander explained in a blog, which was later deleted, how the resignation came to happen live on air:

Just before 9am we learned from Laura Kuenssberg, who comes on the programme every Wednesday ahead of PMQs, that she was speaking to one junior shadow minister who was considering resigning. I wonder, mused our presenter Andrew Neil, if they would consider doing it live on the show?

The question was put to Laura, who thought it was a great idea. Considering it a long shot we carried on the usual work of building the show, and continued speaking to Labour MPs who were confirming reports of a string of shadow ministers considering their positions.

Within the hour we heard that Laura had sealed the deal: the shadow foreign minister Stephen Doughty would resign live in the studio.

Although he himself would probably acknowledge he isn't a household name, we knew his resignation just before PMQs would be a dramatic moment with big political impact.

Editor of BBC live political programmes Robbie Gibb said in a letter to Milne: "I reject your suggestion that we orchestrated and stage-managed the resignation of Stephen Doughty. As he himself confirmed on Friday, Mr Doughty had decided to resign his front-bench position on Wednesday morning, before speaking to any journalists.

"He subsequently spoke to Laura Kuenssberg who asked if he would explain his reasons in an interview on the Daily Politics later that morning. Neither the programme production team, nor Laura, played any part in his decision to resign.

"As you know it is a long standing tradition that political programmes on the BBC, along with all other news outlets, seek to break stories. It is true that we seek to make maximum impact with our journalism which is entirely consistent with the BBC's Editorial Guidelines and values."

On the subject of the deleted blog, he said: "Following the media reaction to Mr Doughty's resignation and appearance on the programme the BBC's training department, the BBC Academy, contacted me asking for an article explaining what goes on behind the scenes when a politician resigns live on air. I had assumed (wrongly) that the article was for internal purposes only.

"When it became apparent that it had been published more widely, we decided to delete it as the piece was written in a tone that was only suitable for an internal audience. No other inference should be drawn from our decision to delete the blog."

Doughty said in a statement: "To suggest that the BBC coerced me to resign is beyond ridiculous.

"As I have already made repeatedly clear – I had already made my own mind up to resign because of the appalling reason for Pat McFadden's sacking over his comments on terrorism, and because of his subsequent smearing by spin doctors who have spent weeks briefing proposed sackings of other senior Labour figures to journalists across the media.

"This new complaint suggesting some dark conspiracy theory is not only embarrassing, embarrassing, embarrassing – it is handing fuel to Tory enemies of one our most crucial national institutions that Labour members and voters rightly want us to protect.

"It also simply re-emphasises the reasons of both why and how I resigned. It is old politics of the highest order."



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Author: Dominic Ponsford

Dominic Ponsford is the editor of Press Gazette